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For Senior Citizen’s Day, ask what you can learn from an older person

It all began with President Ronald Reagan in 1988 when he signed Proclamation 5847 to designate August 21 as Senior Citizen’s Day, a day to honor and celebrate older adults in our country. He proclaimed, “For all they have achieved throughout life and for all they continue to accomplish, we owe older citizens our thanks and a heartfelt salute. We can best demonstrate our gratitude and esteem by making sure that our communities are good places in which to mature and grow older, places in which older people can participate to the fullest and can find the encouragement, acceptance, assistance and services they need to continue to lead lives of independence and dignity.”

Over 30 years later, President Raegan’s message is more important than ever as our older population continues to grow. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 2034, we will have about 77 million people aged 65 and older which is the first time we will have more older adults than those under the age of 18.

We are working on making our communities a good place to live. An example is the California Master Plan for Aging, which is highly relevant since in 2030 demographers expect one out of four Californians to be age 65 or older. The master plan is designed to assist state and local government, communities, and private and philanthropic organizations to build environments that promote an age-friendly and disability-friendly California. See MPA Local Playbook.

In honoring older adults for their personal achievements and accomplishments, we also recognize them for their direct and indirect contributions to our nation and society. Here are just a few examples.

Economic contributions. The 50-plus population contributed $8.3 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2018. They spent $7.6 trillion (or 56 cents of every dollar spent) on goods and services that also benefited their families and communities. This makes the longevity economy the third largest in the world after the U.S. and China.

Tax revenues. In the same year, this same age group contributed $1.4 trillion dollars in federal taxes which is 43 percent of all federal tax revenue. They also added $760 billion dollars to state and local revenue which was 37 percent of these revenues.

Raising grandchildren. Among the 70 million grandparents living in the United States, more than one in 10 have a grandchild living with them, according to AARP’s 2018 Grandparents Today National Survey. This 10 percent is an increase from seven percent in 1992 because of the increase in drug abuse as well as teen pregnancies, prison or jail, child neglect or abuse. Additionally, we know that more women who are mothers are being deployed by the military.

Civic responsibility. Older adults vote. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in the 2020 elections the group with the highest voter turnout was those between ages 65 to 74 with a turnout rate of 76 percent. The lowest group was those ages 18 to 24 with a 52 percent voter turnout rate. Older adults care about our nation and also want to protect Social Security and Medicare.

Supporting adult children. Particularly during the pandemic, half of parents with a child over 18 provided them with some financial support according to a report by They contributed on average $1,000 a month to cell phone plans or health and auto insurance. About two-thirds living at home contributed nothing to household expenses. Clearly, parents are a safety net; for some these unexpected costs created a risk to their own financial security.

Volunteerism. About one in four older adults who are not working volunteer. They assist at group meal sites and deliver meals to the home-bound elderly. They escort and transport frail older persons to health care services, do essential shopping errands, visit the homebound elderly and volunteer at museums and at their churches or synagogues. They participate in intergenerational programming, mentoring and tutoring young people. Their roles and contributions are indispensable.

So, what can we do to honor and show appreciation? Perhaps the first is a thank you. Next, let’s listen to what our older folks have to say. Ask questions. Ask yourself, “What can I learn?” Think of older people as a small version of the Library of Congress. Finally, have some expectations. When no one expects anything from you, it is easy to feel “written off,” that you do not matter. We older adults also have a role to play: to give generously, learn from the young folks and to be kind and non-judgmental. Sounds like a perfect world!

Stay safe and happy Senior Citizen’s Day!

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Visit Helen at and follow her on


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